THE WEEKEND IN FOOTBALL

NFL Week 16 good, bad and ugly: Sorting out the playoff races

Marshon Lattimore's butt helped get an interception. Michael DeMocker of NOLA.com/Times Picayune

Week 16 in the NFL brought us more of what we should expect: the unexpected. Teams either solidified or lost playoff spots, some solidified draft positions. Either way, it was yet another exciting holiday weekend of football, with two games left on the docket.

The Good

-The Kansas City Chiefs won their third consecutive game and locked up the AFC West divisional crown by defeating the Miami Dolphins 29-13. The Chiefs started the season a dominant 5-0, but dropped six of their next seven games. Now 9-6 heading into the playoffs, they’re looking like a team no one wants to face in the AFC.

-Another week, another astonishing performance by Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley. In their 27-23 win over the Tennessee Titans, Gurley rushed for 118 yards, caught another 158 yards of passes, including two receiving touchdowns. With all the Tom Brady, Antonio Brown, Carson Wentz MVP talk, where does Gurley fit in?

-The New Orleans Saints beat NFC South division rival Atlanta Falcons 23-13 to secure a playoff berth. In what was supposed to be one of the better games to watch this weekend, the Saints took control early and never really felt threatened by the Falcons. Key turnovers contributed to their control of this game. Perhaps the play of the year came when Saints’ rookie Cornerback Marshon Lattimore caught an interception off his butt!

The Bad

-The Detroit Lions lost to the hapless Cincinnati Bengals 26-17 to eliminate them from playoff contention. The Bengals came into the game playing out the string of a disappointing season with a lame duck coach. The Lions came into the game fighting for an NFC playoff spot. For the Lions to only muster 276 total yards of offense and lose was terrible. (insert Herm Edwards’ “play to win the games” soundbite)

-The Dallas Cowboys lost at home to the Seattle Seahawks 21-12 in a loser leaves town cage match. Well, it was actually a loser doesn’t make NFC playoffs football game, but loser leaves town cage match sounds cooler. The Cowboys allowed a paltry 136 yards of offense, but committed three costly turnovers. Those turnovers ended up being the dirty ref that hit them with the steel chair as the Seahawks escaped the cage to win.

-The Jacksonville Jaguars clinched a playoff berth when the Titans lost, but they themselves looked very human as their defense was torched by Jimmy Garoppolo’s San Francisco 49ers 44-33. This isn’t the type of film the Jags want out there heading into a playoff berth. While most people assume they play a lot of man, they play more zone than most think, giving up 238 yards passing and two touchdowns. The 49ers also managed to run for 131 yards on the ground. This may not bode well when game plans will focus on your weaknesses in the playoffs.

The Ugly

-The Tampa Bay Buccaneers couldn’t spoil the Carolina Panthers hopes of a “win and get in” game next week because they lost 22-19. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton fumbled the snap, but still rushed in the go ahead touchdown. Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston proceeded to get strip sacked, and thought he recovered the football on the ensuing drive. When the refs awarded the Panthers possession, Winston proceeded to throw the type of tantrum you’d expect from one of those kids who’s mom should probably spank instead of sending them to “time out.” Acting like a petulant child is okay for a spoiled brat, not an NFL quarterback.

-The Factory of Sadness continues as the Cleveland Browns lost to the Chicago Bears 20-3. The Browns have locked up the number one overall draft pick in consecutive years now. Here’s to hoping they can draft a franchise quarterback who’d like to help turn that franchise around. They’re an intriguing team to watch with the bounty of draft picks they have next year, the cap space they have, and the assembly line of young talent currently under contract. But for now, they’re 1-30 in the last two seasons, with a visit to Pittsburgh looming next week.

-The New York Jets lost 14-7 to the Los Angeles Chargers (still feels weird typing or saying that). This was a game in which if you strictly looked at the box score, you’d think the team with 197 rushing yards would’ve dominated. As far as I can remember/research, this is the first time since 2009 when a team lost a game in which it ran for that many yards. That team you ask: the
New York Jets.

There were so many pivotal moments this week in which games could’ve gone either way. Some teams competed hard no matter what was on the line. Some managed to piss the bed because they were so nervous. Either way, another great week of football is in the books. How do we call Lattimore’s interception? “Butt-erception?” “Ass-erception?” “Glut-erception?” Is New England quarterback Tom Brady poised to be league MVP at age 40? Or will Todd Gurley make a late season charge to win it? Will last year’s NFC Super Bowl rep (the Falcons) miss the playoffs? How far can the: 1)Philadelphia Eagles go without Carson Wentz? 2)…the Pittsburgh Steelers without Antonio Brown? So many questions left to be answered as week 16 comes to a close. Let’s see what week 17 and beyond has in store for us.

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The future is bright for the Astros. Composite image by Jack Brame.

2020 has shown us lots of things. A few of the things it's shown us is that anything is possible, expect the unexpected, and do not be surprised at the outcome. Well, the Astros checked all three of those boxes in this pandemic season and post season. Anything was possible when they finished the 60 game season 29-31 and barely made the playoffs (yes, the new format helped, but they made it). We should've expected the unexpected when they were able to beat the Twins in the first round 2-0 after the A's ran away with the division this season. We for damn sure shouldn't have been surprised at the outcome of their ALCS series when they forced Tampa to a game seven after being down 3-0 because this team is experienced and scrappy. We are talking about the team that's made it to the ALCS four years running and won it all in 2017.

Sure, there are some high dollar guys that mean a lot to this team that they may lose (looking squarely at George Springer and Michael Brantley), but that's the end of it. They'll also be without Justin Verlander after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Some will say coming back from a 3-0 deficit to force a game seven was good enough. They'll tell this team to accept its fate and fall into the background. They replaced their manager and general manager after the cheating scandal, no way they can move forward and succeed right? (insert your favorite GTFOH GIF)

Springer and Brantley could both leave as free agents

This team may not be thought of a contender moving forward, but I have faith in the talent that's still there. I believe Jim Crane knows who and what he can't live without moving forward, so I think he'll shell out the cash necessary to keep guys like Springer and Brantley...as long as it's within reason. Crane won't, and shouldn't, get into a bidding war with another team for either guy, but I think he will make a fair offer to both. Verlander being out in his last season under contract is a big blow. However, I think it can work to the team's advantage.

Let's say they're only able to bring back Springer OR Brantley, but Kyle Tucker takes that next step. Let's say Forrest Whitley, Framber Valdez, and Jose Urquidy all take that next step while Lance McCullers continues his accent. What will the league say when Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman return to their previously dominant forms? All of this speaks to the continued era of the dominant Astros.

Even if they lose Brantley and/or Springer this offseason, I still think they have enough in place to keep the lineup competitive and threatening. The pitching staff has enough firepower to put some fear into opposing lineups. If they continue to make the right moves and develop the talent they have in-house, this team won't fall off or take a dip. Instead, they'll continue to be a force if they hold true to the talent they have, and acquire the complimentary talent they need to accent the players they have now. The pitching staff will be in good hands. McCullers, Framber, and Urquidy are guys I feel that can carry the load. Meanwhile, Forrest Whitley is waiting in the wings. Kyle Tucker is poised for the next step in the lineup, and Captain Correa clearly established himself as a leader this post season.

The future is bright for Astros fans. If ownership and the front office pony up the money to keep some guys, it'll be even better.

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